If the trailer to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made you feel like a kid again, you’re not alone — even among some of the heaviest hitters in Hollywood. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (whose credits include Transformers; Mission: Impossible III; and J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek reboot) were equally thrilled by the silhouette of a dusty fedora and the first few bars of the triumphant theme song that led into for the upcoming film (written by David Koepp). Sure, the cowriters have spent time spitballing with Steven Spielberg on Transformers, but deep down they’re still just fans with May 22 circled on their calendars.
Here they talk about the enormous impact Indiana Jones has had in their own screenplays, what it’s like to steal from Steven Spielberg, and how Harrison Ford’s venerable archeologist is still the gold standard when it comes to action movies.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How old were you when you first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark?
ALEX KURTZMAN: I was 8. I remember that there was a lot of debate about the face-melting scene. And I think my parents had to decide whether or not I was old enough to handle that, but they did.
ROBERTO ORCI: I had the exact same experience. I remember my mom asking my dad, ”Do you think it will be too intense for the kids?”
Is there a scene that still excites — or terrifies — you?
ORCI: For me, the indelible image was the Ark, and just finding out that that was a real historical artifact was kind of a shocking thing to me. It was the first movie of this genre where I thought, Oh, that could be real. And that’s an amazing thing to feel as a kid.
KURTZMAN: I also think that the Ark represented that amazingly fine line that the movie is walking between reality and magic, and how it manages to hold the perfect balance between those two things is really a tonal miracle. Raiders defined something that we’ve been chasing forever. It was such a major motivator in our falling in love with genre and understanding that you could tell a story that was emotional and funny and scary and adventurous all in one go. You want people [watching your films] to feel like you felt as a kid watching that movie. That’s the dream.
NEXT PAGE: ”We’ve been in meetings with Spielberg where we’re like, ‘Listen, at the risk of analyzing your own work back to you, this is kind of like, you know, the Staff of Ra.”’
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why was Indiana Jones such a special character and what about Harrison Ford made him the perfect actor to play him?
ROBERTO ORCI: He could actually feel pain and was afraid and screamed when he got hurt. That is not an intuitive choice when you’re thinking of the classic hero.
ALEX KURTZMAN: I would go as far as to say that literally nobody plays action like Harrison Ford. Nobody. I can’t think of anybody who is able to make you feel that the stakes are real, and also make you laugh in the middle of that. There’s so much comedy in these movies, but he never plays it for laughs. Also, he stands for something that everyone can get behind, which is: ”It belongs in a museum.” What matters to him is that history is precious. And two: Snakes. This guy, who is the most amazing adventurer, is afraid of snakes. It’s so inspired.
The sequels each had their own sensibility, but how do they compare to Raiders?
ORCI: They both have moments where they hit that juicy vein of Indiana Jones. We’d probably agree that [Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade] hits it more often and is more consistent, but there’re things that I love about both of them.
KURTZMAN: I would maintain that the first 15 minutes of Temple of Doom — from the club, to the shoot-out, and then the car chase in to the plane, and then there’s no pilot — is as phenomenally great as anything in the first movie.
And The Last Crusade?
KURTZMAN: The father-and-son story in Last Crusade [featuring Sean Connery as Indy’s dad] was so perfectly balanced with the adventure. And the traps in the way of getting to the Grail are so brilliantly plotted, because each one is a test of Indy’s character and ultimately a test of the father/son relationship.
ORCI: I would argue that the third is more broad, and the first one is more edgy. And the trap of adding a family member can often be a pitfall. It’s like adding Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch. But Last Crusade actually manages to get away with it, and I think that’s its success.
Have these films and their characters subconsciously seeped into your own stories?
ORCI: Subconsciously? We’ve been in meetings with Spielberg where we’re like, ”Listen, at the risk of analyzing your own work back to you, this is kind of like, you know, the Staff of Ra.” And he’s like, ”Oh, that’s fine, that’s fine. I always steal from myself. Feel free. Let’s talk about it.” And we’ll use his own movies as examples of what we’re doing in ours, so it’s not subliminal.
KURTZMAN: Let’s just call it what it is: We rip it off as much as is humanly possible, at every turn. Everything we felt that worked in those movies, we try and steal.
ORCI: With his help.
Did the eight-year old in you do somersaults when they announced the fourth film?
KURTZMAN: I think I’m going to start marking days on my calendar. I’ve already started preparing my two-year old son by having him listen to the Raiders theme music. And he now recognizes it, so he’ll walk around the house saying ”Waiders, waiders.” It is so exciting to me, I can’t take it. And we’re doing a movie with Shia LaBeouf right now, and I was like, ”I don’t want to hear one word about this movie. Don’t tell me anything about it,” because I want to go in there and have the same experience that we had as kids.